Thunder sweep champion Mavs out of playoffs
|Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden (L) pressures Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry as center Brendan Haywood and forward Serge Ibaka are near during the second half of their NBA Western Conference quarter-final playoff basketball game in Dallas, Texas May 5, 2012. Photo by Mike Stone, Reuters.
DALLAS, Texas- (UPDATED) The NBA champion Dallas Mavericks were swept out of the first round of the playoffs on Saturday as the Oklahoma City Thunder wrapped up their Western Conference series with a 103-97 victory.
James Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Thunder won their fourth straight in the best-of-seven series to make the Mavericks the first defending champions to be swept in the first round since the Miami Heat in 2007.
Kevin Durant added 24 points and 11 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 12 points, six assists and five rebounds for the second-seeded Thunder.
They became the first team to reach the second round, where they will face either the Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets.
Dirk Nowitzki, the Most Valuable Player of last season's NBA finals triumph over Miami, led the Mavericks with 34 points and Jason Kidd added 16 with eight assists and seven rebounds.
Elsewhere in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers rallied for a dramatic 87-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
In Salt Lake City, Tony Parker scored 27 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Utah Jazz 102-90. The victory put the top-seeded Spurs on the brink of advancing as they took a 3-0 lead in the series.
Tim Duncan scored 17 points and Danny Green 14 for the Spurs, who will try to complete the sweep on Monday in Salt Lake City.
In Dallas, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the Thunder were just too good for the defending champions.
"They're a great young team," Carlisle said of the Thunder. "And the thing that impressed me most about them is that they have a certain look in their eye right now, not just that they belong, but that this could be their time."
After reaching half-time tied at 47-47, Dallas came out strong in the third quarter.
Nowitzki scored 10 points in a 17-7 scoring run to open the third as Dallas seized a double-digit lead.
Oklahoma City trimmed the deficit to 67-61 on Derek Fisher's three-pointer with just over four minutes to play in the third. Dallas responded with a 14-7 scoring run and took an 81-68 lead into the fourth quarter.
Even that, however, wasn't enough against a young, hungry Oklahoma City team that was ousted from the playoffs by the Mavericks last year.
Dallas were leading 86-73 early in the fourth when Harden scored seven straight points to launch a 25-7 scoring run that saw the Thunder surge into a 98-93 lead with 2:30 to play.
Oklahoma City were up 100-97 in the final minute when Harden took an inbounds pass, drove to the net and rolled in a layup off his finger. A Durant free throw completed the scoring.
"They came at us like a buzz saw in the fourth quarter," Carlisle said. "They made plays. We couldn't stop them. They were able to stop us enough. We walk away from this very disappointed but knowing the better team won."
In Los Angeles, Chris Paul scored 24 points and handed out 11 assists for the Clippers, who took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with game four on Monday in Los Angeles.
Blake Griffin added 17 points and Randy Foye's 16 points included four three pointers, one of which knotted the score in the waning minutes.
Rudy Gay finished with 24 points for Memphis, but missed a potential game-winning jump shot at the buzzer.
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